There are various methods of panning, but here are some basics to get you started, you will probably find you then adapt this to suit your own style….
- Set the shutter speed to 1/320 as an absolute maximum, any faster and you won’t get the blurred effect.
- Technically speaking you should use the AFC/C-AF auto-focus setting if possible, this will force the camera to continually refocus, however I’ve found that AFS/S-AF is actually more consistent on current Micro Four Thirds bodies (see: AFC vs. AFS).
- Use the Single Point Autofocus setting, the clever tracking modes simply cannot keep up with a fast moving vehicle (see: AF Area Modes).
- Switch off the full Image Stabilization setting (see: Image Stabilization)
- Switch off Focus/Release Priority (see: Focus Priority)
- As a dry run track a car as it passes, find a good level of zoom so it fills the viewfinder/screen nicely when in front of you.
Shooting (Side-on Pan)
- Track the car through the viewfinder/screen at the earliest possible opportunity
- Hold the shutter release down half-way to initiate focus
- Continue to track the car with the button half-pressed, the camera will continue to refocus (if using AFS/S-AF, you may want to refocus just before capturing)
- Fully press the shutter release at the point where you want to capture the car
- Continue to track the car in a smooth movement
The most important thing is to ‘follow through’, there should be no pause or abrupt end once you have taken the shot, continue to pan smoothly and you are more likely to get the shot. For an in-depth look at shutter speeds when panning, take a look at the separate shutter speed guide I have written.
Head-on / Rear Shots
There are two completely different ways to approach these kinds of shots, unfortunately this is the one area where the Contrast Detect Auto Focus systems found in Micro Four Thirds bodies really struggles compared to their DSLR cousins, as yet I’ve struggled to consistently capture these kinds of images with my Micro Four Thirds equipment:
1. Very fast shutter speeds
This one’s simple to explain, just choose shutter priority mode and select the fastest shutter speed you can, you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/400, depending on light conditions this may require increasing ISO. Fire away, no panning or any particular technique is needed, the shutter speed will be more than fast enough to freeze the car.
+ Is easy to do
+ Almost guarantees a sharp image
– Lack of motion in shot
– Requires fast (expensive) lens if light is not good, not an easy option with Micro Four Thirds
2. Slower shutter speeds
This method is slightly harder to perfect, essentially you need to pan, although that sounds simple it will become clear when you try it that if a car is coming straight towards you, it isn’t actually moving very much in your viewfinder. A speed of around 1/320 – 1/250 should mean you only need a very slight pan, you can achieve this if the car is at a slight angle to you by tracking the car as you shoot, or if it is coming dead towards you then you can try forcing movement by panning from the top of the windscreen down towards the front grill. Only a small amount of movement is needed at 1/320 so as long as you can pan slightly with the motion of the car it should work.
+ Motion in shot (i.e. blurred wheels)
+ Doesn’t require a fast lens
– Is harder to achieve
A few general tips to consider, these aren’t rules by any stretch of the imagination, but they may help initially…
1. Get down low.
Whilst it isn’t always easy, a shot from a low angle is generally recommended over a shot where the car roof is visible.
2. Give cars space to ‘drive’ into.
It’s easy to fall into a trap where you maximize your zoom capability and miss the bigger picture. Whilst there is nothing much wrong with this image below technically, the car has no space to move into. Leaving more space in front of the car than behind will generally give you a more appealing photograph.
3. Avoid cluttered backgrounds.
The aim of a motorsport photograph is often to capture a particular car, as a general rule anything to take your eye away from that is not good for the final image. The shot below would probably have worked with a nice clean grassy background, but the barriers clash with the car and overall it feels very ‘messy’.
4. Try a Monopod
Some photographers find that monopods make motorsport photography more difficult, however they do significantly stabilize your lens which is important for both panning and standard shots. When panning it removes nearly all vertical movement, this is one of the major factors in ensuring a nice sharp panning shot. They are also hugely useful when you have a long and/or heavy lens, firstly to stabilize your lens and secondly to take the weight of the equipment away from you.
5. Be prepared
Invest in some sort of wet weather protection for your camera, or even fashion something yourself out of a carrier bag or two. Shooting in heavy rain is great fun and can help generate some fantastic photos with all the spray (and wayward cars). The shot below was taken in extremely heavy rain, 99% of the photographers in attendance had disappeared or hidden under an umbrella by this point…
6. Go mad
The most important advice I can offer is to go a bit mad, particularly once you are reasonably competent with the basics of motorsport photography. Whilst it is good to get some ‘record’ shots saved, I find that my best images actually come after I’ve got a few standard safe shots and then decide to experiment and do something a bit silly, in many ways this helps you to develop as you are pushing your abilities to the limit